January 16th, 2011

"For Your Eyes Only" (story, not movie)

From 1959, this is a short story Ian Fleming adapted from one of the half dozen treatments he wrote for an unrealized James Bond TV series. It really evokes the feeling of a black & white British show from the early 1960s, too. As I read it, I can almost hear the DANGER MAN music and visualize the fade from the opening scene of the murders to Bond sitting in M`s office. (Several mentions of Castro being close to ousting Battista also help set the era in the mind's eye.)

As a brief adventure story, "For Your Eyes Only" is brisk and enjoyable but if the characters had different names and the author were given a different byline, I doubt if it would stand out from the seething mass of tough guy tales which appeared in those lurid men`'s magazines of the era. It`s a straightforward, no-nonsense plot. A Nazi refugee escaping from Cuba kills an elderly Jamaican couple so he can claim their estate; unhappily for Von Hammerstein, the outraged chap who had been best man at the victims` wedding just happens to be head of the British Secret Service and he has something called a Double 0 agent on his staff....

The ex-Gestapo man and his pack have moved on to a house in the wilds of Vermont, near the Canadian border. James Bond hikes down to sneak up on them with a rifle, but things are complicated by the arrival of the old couple`s daughter Judy (well, of course she's a gorgeous young blonde, what were you thinking?) and she's packing a bow and arrow, with murder in her heart.

As exciting as the inevitable shootout is (and Fleming really does a good job making it seem tense and dangerous) and as appealing as the sight of a young female Robin Hood stalking Nazis seems, the most important part of the story is back in London in M`s office. In fact, it`s one of the most startling scenes in the entire series.

Normally, James Bond receives his assignments directly from his boss, the surly old ex-admiral Sir Miles Messervy, and he takes it for granted that M knows the score and is only sending him on justified missions. This time, however, M has a personal problem. He wants to avenge the murders of his old friends, but however understandable his grudge may be, it's not really something within the Service`s mandate. The villains are on American territory, beyond the reach of British authority and they would only get away if the Yanks tried to revoke their visas.

Not only would it be an illegal act of terrorism to send a British agent secretly onto American soil to kill people without trial, but M doesn't even take the responsibility of ordering Bond to do so. He hems and haws and deftly presents his case, and he ends up getting 007 to volunteer to undertake this execution. M never actually tells Bond to do anything, he manipulates the agent into setting out on his own volition. Sheesh. See a little potential for abuse in this practice?

If Bond were caught and exposed, or arrested by the American police, there would be no paper trail leading back to M. James Bond would be seen as a rogue agent. and it's hard to say what his fate would be. Disgrace, prison, the electric chair? (Bond says to an RCMP colonel in on the conspiracy, "... if I end up in Sing Sing that`s my worry.")

Of course, for us reading the story, it's thoroughly clear who`s right in this case. After all, right at the start of the story we see von Hammerstein and his Cuban gangsters gun the harmless old couple down. The villains are presented as so completely vulgar, brutal and unattractive that the reader has no doubts they deserve a little nemesis. (It would have made a very interesting and more haunting story if there had been some doubt about the guilt of these goons and if Bond had been really uncertain about the justice of his mission. But that's not the type of tale Ian Fleming was telling here.)

One of the things which has most struck me in re-reading the canon is how vulnerable and human Bond is. Far from being the cool detached cad his image with the general public would suggest, the genuine Bond of Fleming`s creation has doubts and misgivings which eat away at him. Although 007 likes to think of himself as a tough guy with a cold heart, he's anything but. Even in this case, when he knows he's going after ex-Gestapo and Cuban gangsters, Bond keeps having to talk himself into the mission (his "mind hunted around for more arguments to bolster his resolve").

Fleming's writing is as crisp and vivid as we can always expect from him. He describes Jamaica and Vermont with that journalistic style that throws out many colorful asides without bogging the story down. Bond's interior monologue remains believable and amusing; when not brooding over the violence ahead, he does everything from nostalgically reminisce about the sound of push lawnmowers to wonder who Ethan Allen was ("Did he make furniture?").

The eight short stories which Ian Fleming left us about James Bond range from straightforward spy thrillers to human interest vignettes to murder mysteries. When Fleming found the later books increasingly a chore to turn out, I wish he had instead written another half dozen stories about Bond in which he could have felt free to experiment a bit.

Live from New York, it's Kate and Summer

Well, I've spent hours now trying to come to some decision about the choice between Kate Beckinsale and Summer Glau. This beats "Bailey or Jennifer" and "Mary Anne or Ginger?" hands down*. The phone has been ringing, my email box is full, the reporters on the front lawn are drinking coffee and waiting for the final word. But I'm torn. So let's try this. Today, we will let Summer choose her picture and that of her arch-nemesis; tomorrow, it will be Kate's turn. Let's see how this works out.

Okay then, I guess we see her point of view.

*Hands down on the table where we can see them, boy.